By Dave Iltis
Utah cyclists are a pretty amazing group of people. They come from all walks of life, but share their commitment to the bicycle. Cycling Utah honors that dedication to the bicycle and competition with our Rider of the Year Awards.
Michael Conti has had a dream that began 34 years ago in Huntington Beach, California as he watched the cyclists in the Race Across America (RAAM) depart from the pier to ride to the East Coast. That dream built to a crescendo in 2016 when he attempted the RAAM for the first time. Unfortunately, a truck smashed into his support team, and although no one was seriously hurt, this terrifying experience put an end to the goal for that year. But Michael Conti has a note on his computer that reads: “Dream everyday that you will live forever and live everyday like it will end today.” This kept him going, and in 2018 he and his crew attempted the race again. He said, “Honestly after the accident in 2016 I was lost not sure if it was worth the risk in pursuing my dream of RAAM. After a lot of thought and encouragement I decided that my dream was worth chasing. I didn’t want to let an accident determine the outcome of a 30 year dream and goal.”
Preparation for the race was made over 18 months, with 12,000 miles of riding each year. “After I made the commitment to race in 2018, I did everything I could to ensure I would have a successful race across the USA. I lined up a crew with 27 years of RAAM experience between them. They were flawless in their execution. Everything I wanted I had.” That spirit and preparation earned Michael the Ian Sanbach Award for embodying the spirit of RAAM.
Over the 11 days, 5 hours, and 59 minutes, Conti rode. “For me the race was 269 hours of nonstop challenges from the heat of the Arizona desert, climbing over the Rocky Mountains, crossing Kansas with nonstop cross winds and the hills and rain of the Appalachians. The Race through everything at me.” He had little sleep too, “No sleep for the first night, first sleep break was 550 miles into the race. The next 5 nights was 90 minutes a night and then I started sleeping 3 hours a night for the last 5 nights.” He was able to let go of the past too when he passed the site of the 2016 crash, “Passing the accident scene I could still see the scars in the asphalt and fence posts that were replaced. I stopped to say a prayer and put it past me literally and figuratively.”
Over the 11 days, his crew was flawless, “11 in my support crew including my now wife. I had a crew chief that handled logistics and made sure my crew was taken care of. A mechanic who made sure my bikes were perfect every time I got on them. I then had a night crew and day crew that worked 12 hour shifts. This race wouldn’t be possible without the crew sacrificing two weeks of their lives for me. They are the reason I finished and was successful. I’ll never be able to thank them for what they gave me. Every want and need I had was taken care of. As the race progressed my physical motor skills were fading and at some points they would have to physically zip up my jackets and put my gloves on because my hands and fingers were so weak. The crew is everything in RAAM.”
Michael Conti finished 5th overall in the 2018 Race Across America. For his accomplishment, and perseverance, Michael Conti and his support crew is Cycling Utah’s 2018 Overall Rider of the Year.
Lindsey Stevenson won just about every race she entered on the road in Utah. She won Lotoja, the Blackwell Realty Circuit Race, East Canyon Road Race, Antelope Island, Tax Day, Farm Bureau Circuit Race, and the Lifetime Fitness Criterium, plus the State Championship Sugarhouse Criterium. Lindsey Stevenson is our Female Road Racer of the Year.
Viggo Moore is a 14 year old junior racer on the move. This year, the youngster won the over all category 3-4 field season points competition against competition often twice his age in the Utah Cycling Association. He added to that a state championship in the hill climb, and a USA Cycling National Championship in the 13-14 Junior Men’s Road Race. Viggo Moore is our Male Road Racer of the Year.
Evelyn Dong had a great season with wins in two of the Intermountain Cup races – the Red Rock Rampage and the Rage at Snowbird, a second in the Park City Point 2 Point, wins in both the cross country and short track cross country in the Missoula XCT, a second place at the Soldier Hollow XCT, and second overall in the Pro XCT national points series. Evelyn Dong is our Female Mountain Bike Racer of the Year.
Zach Calton had another great year racing mountain bikes. He won three Intermountain Cups, the Crusher in the Tushar, finished second in the True Grit 50 miler, and was 3rd overall in the Collegiate National Omnium. Zach Calton is our Male Mountain Bike Racer of the Year.
Lia Westermann goes fast downhill. Really fast. She was second overall in the Enduro Cup Series, second overall in the Collegiate Nationals Omnium which included downhill, dual slalom, cross country, and short track cross country, and won both days of the Pomerelle Pounder Utah Downhill Series. Lia Westermann is our Female Gravity Rider of the Year.
Mitch Ropelato won three races in the Utah Downhill Series at Nordic Valley and Sundance, and won the Sea Otter Dual Slalom. He also raced around the world in the Enduro World Series, where he finished 20th overall. Mitch Ropelato is our Male Gravity Rider of the Year.
Katherine Shields had three win in the 2017 Utah Cyclocross Series and a ton of other podium finishes on her way to the overall series win. Katherine Shields is our Female Cyclocross Racer of the Year (2017 Season).
Jeff Bender won four races in the 2017 Utah Cyclocross Series and finished atop the leaderboard for the year. Jeff Bender is our Male Cyclocross Racer of the Year (2017 Season).
The Jordan River Parkway to Legacy Parkway trail system was completed last year from Utah County to Weber County, a continuous paved trail system over 100 miles. The Golden Spoke is the bridge over the Union Pacific train yards in Salt Lake City. Dan Bergenthal is the unsung hero in seeing this $7 million bridge to completion. He helped to guide the project over the last decade or so in his role as a Salt Lake City transportation engineer. Dan Bergenthal is our Advocate of the Year.
They crushed both the Utah Crit Series and the Utah Cycling Series overall points competition across all categories. Led by Lindsey Stevenson, who won the women’s Pro/1/3 UCA category, and Cam Candelaria who was second in the Utah Crit Series, they fielded riders across all categories on their way to a great season. Zone 5 Racing is our Road Racing Team of the Year.
ImpactDevo Mountain Bike Team is a club focused on developing junior riders as cyclists and as people through fitness, character, and community. The club won the Intermountain Cup team points series handily. Its riders volunteer as tutors in Title 1 schools in Ogden, and work on trail building as part of their team membership donating hundreds of hours to the community. ImpactDevo is our Mountain Bike Team of the Year.
WomenMTB is a new club that focuses on creating an environment of “acceptance and empowerment” for women to ride. They hold several groups rides a month for all skill levels, along with skills clinics and other events. And, they promoted a women-only mini-Enduro race this year. WomenMTB is our Mountain Bike Club of the Year.
Intermountain LiVe Well Cycling Club is a club focused on healthy lifestyles and on getting riders out on the bike. They have a top level race team that competes locally and regionally. They also have close to 500 riders, most of whom do not race. Their club had it’s own separate category at the Cache Gran Fondo with over 250 riders. They also have a weekly group ride in Ogden open to anyone that typically sees over 100 riders. They have clinics on helmet safety and more. Intermountain LiVe Well is our Road Touring Club of the Year.
The Huntsman 140 is a mainstay of Utah bike rides. The event has options for all riders ranging from 30-140 miles, with the hallmark event a 140 mile point to point ride from Delta, Utah to Salt Lake City. “The Huntsman 140 ride had its beginnings in 2001, when Stage IV head and neck cancer survivor, Jeff Warren set off on an annual journey via his Litespeed Siena from his hometown of Reno, Nevada to the University of Utah campus, surrounded by family members and supporters,” said Jen Murano-Tucker, event organizer. Jeff still rides from Reno to Salt Lake City, and joins the ride in Delta. This year, the ride had 760 participants, and raised $423,000 (plus an additional $290,000 from the 5K run) for cancer research at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. The Huntsman 140 is our Event of the Year.
Father and son: Christoph and Luke Heinrich for winning National Championships in the same year in cyclocross; Christoph in the Men’s 50-54 and Luke in the Junior Men 13-14.
Kevin Day for winning the Men’s 30-34 Cyclocross National Championship.
Fred Lariviere for winning the Junior 11-12 Downhill National Championship.
Katie Clouse for winning the Short Track Cross Country 17-18 Mountain Bike National Championship, as well as the Junior 17-18 Road Race and Criterium National Championships.
Sydney Parker-Leger for winning the Junior 15-16 Cross Country National Championship.
Justin Lindine for coming back from a broken wrist to win the Intermountain Cup Series in the Pro Men.
KC Holley for winning the Intermountain Cup Series in the Pro Women.
Nicole Tittensor for riding strong in the Intermountain Cup despite family setbacks and injury.
Jared Eborn and Marek Shon for always trying to make the road racing scene better and for taking on a ton of events.
Rob Smallman for winning the UCA Series and Justin Griffin for winning the Utah Crit Series.
There are many many other deserving riders, advocates, teams, clubs, events, and promoters that all deserve a huge thank you! We apologize if we have overlooked anyone but know that we do appreciate your hard work and achievements in cycling!
Thanks for reading Cycling Utah and Cycling West this year. We’ll see you again in the spring!